Lecture 35: Death
Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
This is the 35th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
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We want to look now at what happens at the end of life; what is the blessed hope that we have in Jesus? Titus 2:13 tells us of our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. So when this life of partnership with Jesus finishes, what then? A short summary: there is life after death and that life is with Jesus in heaven and following that there is life after life after death which will be on the New Earth or the renewed earth and there we will be in the presence of the Triune God and we will be doing something for the remainder of eternity.
II. Life and Death
A. Physical Death verses Spiritual Death
This paragraph deals with the purpose of our life with the present purpose of doing the redemptive work of Jesus. There is also a future purpose that includes the destruction of evil and those who have sided with that evil. So what is next? Death, obviously, but what does death mean? The fundamental idea of death is separation in what was never intended to be separated. We see in Genesis 2 where God forms Adam out of dust plus breath with the result of having a living being, a living person. Another thing that happens at death, our material side and our spiritual side are torn apart. The body goes to the ground and turns back into dust but our spirit goes to be with God. So physical death is the separation of material and immaterial; Ecclesiastes 12 talks about the body returning to the dust from which it came and the spirit returning to God from which it came. There is also a separation from the present life and we see this in Philippians 1:21 where Paul is in prison and says for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two, my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith. So Paul says to die is gain, but living in the body is a fruitful labor in regards to our partnership with Jesus. Yet, his desire is to be with Christ which he thinks to be far better. He is looking forward to being with Christ and also separation from this life. In 2nd Corinthians 5:4 Paul talks about an earthly tent, this body, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. But God has prepared us by giving us the Spirit as a guarantee.
Then verse 8 and 9 says whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please God. So death is separation from this material body and then being with the Lord and that is what happens in death immediately. There is spiritual death which is a moral and personal separation from God and that is what happens back in Genesis 3 as Adam and Eve die spiritually. They hide from God when he comes and looks for them. We see spiritual death is summarized in Ephesians 1 and other places as well. Eternal death is that confirmation of Spiritual death so we are separated from God in all eternality. And it seems to me that death never means an end of existence, instead it is a separation from life in this world. Spiritual death is separation from God but we still exist materially. We decide to follow other gods in worship and service. So our hope is to be with Christ. The phrase that ‘we go to heaven when we die’ is never really used in the Bible as such. Heaven is where Jesus is and our hope is to be with the Lord. It is true that Jesus is in heaven that we will go to be with him. So after death, our existence will be with Jesus forever. When the unbeliever dies, the body turns back to dust and their spirit goes to Hades or hell, yet we don’t have a lot of information in regards to hell. We have a clear idea of hell with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
B. The Rich Man and Lazarus
So, as already pointed out we only get hints as to what happens to the unbeliever in regards to hell; consider Luke 16:19 where Jesus tells us a parable about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man and Lazarus, the poor man both die. Lazarus goes to heaven while the rich man ends up in hell. Lazarus was actually carried by angels to heaven. The rich man is in such torment that he begs Abraham to have Lazarus come and touch his tongue with water. This request still shows the selfishness of the man. But Abraham reminds him of his earthly life and the good things that he received compared to Lazarus and the difficult life he lived. But regardless of this, Abraham says, it is impossible to do as he asked because of the great separation between the dimension of heaven and the dimension of hell. Those who live in either dimension are unable to cross over to the next. Even though this is a parable, it is a story to illustrate what is. Sadly, the rich man still only saw Lazarus as a servant to come and make his life easier.
III. Practical Questions
A. On the Act of Dying
Why are we afraid of death? It is an unknown, it can be painful and it is sort of a mystery and weird. And then why have a funeral; and what is the purpose of a funeral? I think it is a ceremony showing the importance and purpose of being a human being. It is a ministry of sharing and releasing grift, it represents a closure to a person’s life. Biblical practice is of course a burial of the body. So what about cremation? I think that is an option but the body should never be viewed as something cast off and gone. It will be resurrected and we will be rejoined to that body. So, when is a person dead? Medically, this is a very complicated question nowadays. Is it when they cease to express themselves rationally with no ability to sustain themselves independently. Is it when the heart stops or when the brain ceases to function? The Bible only says it is when the soul departs. What about a person who is in a vegetative state, a person who is comatose and can only live on life support, where there is no brain function but their body continues to go on?
B. On Consciousness After Death
Are there ghosts? I think every culture has an idea of ghost which is the spirit of a person which has departed the body but still around. In some parts of the world, ghosts are a huge issue. The Biblical picture is that people go elsewhere immediately upon death. The idea of ghost wondering around bedeviling people is not a Biblical picture. We have instances in the Bible where those who are death come from another place. The Lazarus story shows us that there is consciousness after death. We see in Revelation 6:9-11 where it talks about the souls under the altar in heaven crying out how long Lord? They appear to be aware of what is happening on the earth. What about the Catholic view of purgatory? This says that there is a place after death for people with sins that have been uncleansed. These have to be cleansed before they go to heaven. It is a place that you are in the fires of hell but this is only temporary so sin can be burned off and then you can go to be with Jesus. There is no Biblical teaching on this idea and Protestants as a whole do not believe this. The idea that most Protectants hold is that we go to Jesus immediately because our sins have been forgiven.
So, what about rewards? In Luke 19:11 Jesus is interacting with the people about the Kingdom of God. The first story is a nobleman who became a king and returned. He called ten of servants, giving them money, he assigns each of them a different task to invest this money and seek returns on it. So they go and invest the money earning different amounts of money of which the king praises them for their work. They are given rewards according to the returns they had on this money, all except one who didn’t invest the money out of fear. This person received no reward and the money given to him was taken and given to someone else. So we see that our lives in the next life are directly related to our actions in this life. The person who didn’t invest his money had everything taken from him. This man obviously saw God as hard and self-serving, a God that had to be paid off. I don’t think this person even knew God in the first place. So, what we do in this life has direct impact on our status in the Kingdom of God. I think in this parable, God is measuring faithfulness and he is measuring our growth. I also think that the things that we do in this life for Jesus continues into the next life with Jesus. Our status in the next life is in relation to our skills and our joys will be parallel to what we do now.
The person who doesn’t take their relationship with Jesus seriously will face consequences in the next life. In 2nd Corinthians 5:10 it says that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. So the person who does good will receive good in relation to that, the person who does bad is the one who get things in relation to that. I think these people are believers, here. So there are rewards and punishment related to our faithfulness in this life. Now lots of people disagree with this but I think the Bible does teach this.
IV. God’s Kingdom
A. The Son of Man and the Kingdom of God
From the beginning of Scripture we see that God has created humanity with blessings and wanted humanity to be in a ruling relationship with God. From Genesis 1:26 man was made in their image so that we can rule with him. I think we were introduced into Eden, a place of God’s blessings and now we are in a building state bringing order to rest of the world. Now that gets sidetracked in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve decide not to trust God which resulted in a promised Messiah. This rescue mission continues with the church to bring the Kingdom back from a sin marred world. This happened in different stages and with the coming of Jesus was a major stage in this development. This was done to establish his rule through the defeat of evil powers thus bringing order to all relationships and Jesus being worshipped as Lord. This is the basic idea of kingdom. In Mark chapter 1 Jesus comes preaching the Kingdom of God saying repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand. This new phrase of God’s Kingdom has arrived because the King has arrived. In this Messianic Kingdom, it is a fulfillment that goes all the way back to Genesis 3 but it includes other things as well. In 2nd Samuel 7 there was a Davidic promise and a New Covenant Promise in Ezekiel 6 and Jeramiah 31, etc. In this new Messianic Kingdom with the Messianic Son of Man with Isaiah’s suffering servant in Isaiah 53 will all come together in Jesus. But understand this, the enemy is not yet defeated and the world is not in order; righteousness is not yet in place. We already have this in what we call the inaugurated kingdom where the kingdom has begun with the first coming of Jesus; Satan has been decisively defeated but not yet destroyed. The kingdom has begun but not yet consummated. The kingdom authority has come in part but there are yet things that we are waiting for.
I think of Jesus in relation to David where we see in 1st Samuel 16 that David is anointed king by Samuel. I’m comparing this with what is happening today. So, for the next 25 years, the reigning king is Saul. He is on the throne in Jerusalem and David is running around in the wilderness where Saul is trying to kill him. Between 1st Samuel 5 and 2nd Samuel 1, who is really King? Is it Saul or is it David? I think that is where we are at today. For much of the world, they are worshiping the prince of this world, the world of the flesh and the devil because Satan is the prince of this world. Jesus says this in John 12:31 and for many people, they really believe that Satan’s way is the right way. Satan’s principle has to do with what is in it for me? That is his message. People say that they can’t trust God as it is not in their best interest. A lot of people worship Satan in so many different ways but it is Satan that they worship by their mouths and by their actions. But those who follow Jesus continue to say that the way to go is Jesus; his truth, his teachings, his radical ideas of putting others first and of denying sin in their lives. So we, as Christians, believe that Jesus is the anointed king, exalted and sitting on the throne in heaven but not yet the reigning king. That is yet to come. We are in between the times of the 1st and 2nd coming of Christ. We, the people of faith have the ability to recognize the reality of who Jesus is and that this kingdom has begun but is not yet consummated. Inaugurated eschatology is in reference to an already – not yet kingdom. So, one thing that this means is that Jesus is coming again. That is the blessed hope, the glorious appearance of his coming. In Acts 1, the people are peering into heaven and the angel says that he going to be coming back again. You need to be busy, doing kingdom work.
B. Destruction of the Temple and the Return of Jesus
The expectation that Jesus is coming again is showing up in many different places. Now the fact of his coming again is certain, the time of his coming is totally unknown. But people are still trying to set dates for the return of Christ. Jesus tells us that we don’t know. The second coming of Christ is a sure and certain hope that will happen. Jesus spoke about this and I want to relate Matthew 24:3 to this. At the end of chapter 23, Jesus just finishes describing the destruction of the temple. The disciples thought that the temple was amazing and beautiful but Jesus reminded them that it is nothing, it is desolate. Jesus tells them that it is all coming down, it will be destroyed, not one stone left on another. It was then that the disciples ask when this will happen and what will be the sign of the end of the age. It was two questions. The first question is covered down to verse 36. The second question continues from verse 37. He talks about this in a very layered parable. There will be a lot of things in regards to the devastation but it will not yet be the end. There will be nation against nation and sickness and yet this isn’t the end. It is only the beginning of the birth pains. The signs of the times as they are today will be like this all the way to his return. We will see wickedness increase and a lot of bad things yet. We need to do our job, preach the Gospel. But when we see the abomination of desolation, then we are to leave. That was the days when the Romans came and entered the temple. We are to understand what is happening during this time. All of this happens in that generation leading up and including the destruction of the temple. In tracing verse 30 back to Daniel chapter 7:13 in regards to the Son of Man and the heavenly Messiah, but it talks about a continuing war with the beast. This picture is about the enthronement, then anointing of Jesus as Messiah. It is not talking about the second coming. This is difficult for people to understand. We see in Matthew 24:30 again where we will see the Con of Man coming on the Clouds of heaven. Many Christians disagree with this. But this is about the enthronement of the Messiah. This isn’t so much a second coming picture as an enthronement picture. This is a picture used in the Old Testament in the destruction of Babylon that happened long before the coming of Jesus. Down through verse 35, Jesus is talking about the destruction of the temple and he expects people to understand this.
In verse 36, the topic is changed to the day of the second coming, nobody knows. It compares it to the days of Noah and then even with working people, some will be taken while others left behind. So down through verse 35, it is talking about the destruction of the temple. This is somewhat radical as different people believe different things here. Verse 36 and following is talking about the day of the Lord that Jesus doesn’t even know when. This is much debated as to the actual meaning; I have expressed my ideas on it.